Ohio State vs. Michigan Basketball: Comparing the 2 Squads at Every Position

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2012

Ohio State vs. Michigan Basketball: Comparing the 2 Squads at Every Position

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    Woody Hayes versus Bo Schembechler. Jim Tressel versus Lloyd Carr. Urban Meyer versus Brady Hoke (coming soon to a field near you).

    Thad Matta versus John Beilein?

    Admittedly, the basketball rivalry between the Buckeyes and Wolverines doesn’t inspire the hatred, nostalgia and inter-family divisions in the Midwest that the gridiron version does, but there is still no love lost.

    While Thad Matta has a dominating 15-3 career record against the maize and blue, Michigan’s home victory against the Buckeyes last year, as well as the budding rivalry between star point guards Trey Burke and Aaron Craft, has fans’ blood boiling again.

    So how does the matchup look for the upcoming season? Both figure to be in contention for the Big Ten (although Indiana will probably have something to say about that) and the rivalry should only get more contentious.

    When breaking down Ohio State and Michigan’s starting lineups, it only becomes clearer how close this battle will be in 2012-13.

    Stats are courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com.

Point Guard: Aaron Craft vs. Trey Burke

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    The epicenter of the current Ohio State and Michigan rivalry is appropriately located right at the position labeled one in the score book.

    If fans wanted to know who won each of the three games these two teams played last year, all they had to do was look at the point guard matchup. Craft, behind his tenacious defense and ball-hawking, outplayed Burke in Columbus, but it was Burke who hit a handful of crucial shots as time expired in Ann Arbor.

    Naturally, the home teams—behind their point guards—won the two regular season games.

    But it was the Big Ten tournament game that Craft separated himself from Burke. When the bright lights were on, the defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year completely shut down Michigan’s freshman. Burke ended up with an astounding eight turnovers, and the Buckeyes manhandled their rivals by 22 points.

    It appeared as if Craft took Burke's victory the last time around personally.

    This is arguably the tightest matchup of all the starting spots (although that can be said about almost every position), but Craft gets the edge because of his superior defense (second in the nation in total steals last year) and his postseason dominance.

    After all, it was Craft who was directing his team in the Final Four last season and Burke who was knocked out by another Ohio team in the first game.

Shooting Guard: Lenzelle Smith Jr. vs. Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    It is the battle of the juniors at the shooting guard position. Problem is, it is the battle of inconsistency as well.

    On paper the edge here goes to Michigan, and (spoiler alert) it ultimately will at the end of this slide. But Hardaway, who shot nearly 40 percent from downtown in his impressive freshman season, disappointed on many fronts as a sophomore.

    His three-point percentage fell to a measly 28 percent, he averaged two turnovers a game and a frustrating slump late in the season had Wolverine fans worried.

    As for Lenzelle Smith, the glass half-full approach would point out his stellar play in the NCAA Tournament as a sign that he has turned a corner entering his junior season. And that just may be the case.

    But for now, the edge goes to the maize and blue here. Even with his inconsistent play, Hardaway managed to average more than 14 points a game—significantly more than Smith’s 6.8.

    Smith has the edge in other areas, such as defense, but Hardaway still has the potential to be very special. Michigan is on the board.

Small Forward: LaQuinton Ross vs. Glenn Robinson III

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    Can the Wolverines get the nod at the small forward spot based on hype alone?

    Rivals lists Robinson as a 5-star prospect and the second best small forward in the 2012 recruiting class. Considering the fact that freshman phenomenon Burke was only considered a 3-star player, Michigan fans are anxiously awaiting Robinson’s impact on the program.

    LaQuinton Ross knows a little about hype himself. The highly-touted recruit in the 2011 class spent most of his freshman season on the end of the bench instead of draining threes after a month long suspension (academic issues).

    Both players have similar games and heights (Ross is 6’8” and Robinson is 6’7”). While Ross may get the slight edge in the three-point category, Robinson is a smooth and natural scorer who could very well fill up the box score for Beilein this season.

    This selection is based purely on potential (which both players have plenty), but Robinson is the choice by the slightest of margins.

    I can’t shake the image of Ross’ inconsistent and tumultuous season last year, and Robinson has the chance to be a legitimate star.

Power Forward: Deshaun Thomas vs. Mitch McGary

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    If Michigan fans are excited about Robinson, then they are ecstatic about Mitch McGary. The consensus 4-star recruit brings much-needed size to the Wolverine frontcourt and has the shooting touch to match.

    With the transfer of Evan Smotrycz, Michigan was really left with only Jordan Morgan as a returning threat in the lane. Enter the 6’10” rebounding machine McGary.

    However, in this hypothetical breakdown, McGary is outmatched. He would certainly take the head-to-head comparison against many Buckeyes, but Deshaun Thomas is not one of them.

    Thomas is the leading scorer among all Ohio State returnees, led all Buckeye regulars in field-goal percentage last season and had one of the best postseasons this side of Lexington last March.

    Thomas’ junior season just may propel him into true college stardom.

    Yes, Thomas must improve his defense and rebounding next season, but this was probably the easiest selection of all the assessments. The scarlet and gray get the nod at power forward.

Center: Amir Williams vs. Jordan Morgan

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    For the final, tie-breaking comparison this matchup lacks the necessary pizazz. On the surface, this is less enticing than Craft versus Burke or Thomas versus McGary.

    Nevertheless, both of these players have the chance to be solid contributors for their respective squads. In fact, solid is the perfect word to describe Morgan’s first two seasons in Ann Arbor.

    Last season, the 6’8” big man averaged 7.3 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. While the 5.6 rebounds per game don’t exactly jump off the page, it was good enough to lead the rebounding-hampered Wolverines.

    Therein lies the difference between Williams and Morgan. Morgan is someone that will consistently give Michigan a respectable stat-line every time he plays, but the potential to be anything more isn’t really there. On the other hand, Williams is a former McDonald’s All-American who has the potential to be a shot blocking and rebounding force for the Bucks.

    In about six minutes of action per game, Williams averaged almost an entire block a contest last year. That number should skyrocket in a full season as a starter. With no more Sullinger to take up space in the lane, the paint in Columbus is Williams’ for the taking.

    In the final matchup, potential trumps experience, and the Buckeyes take home a three-two advantage over their rivals.

Final Verdict

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    Take it easy on me in the comments section Wolverines fans because I think that you may have the deeper team if the bench is considered. In fact, this matchup is so closely contested (even among the starting lineups) that I think the two teams will ultimately end up splitting their two games.

    I know, it’s no fun to pick a tie. So I’ll go out on a limb and say the Buckeyes break the deadlock in the Big Ten Tournament behind their postseason experience and Aaron Craft’s tenacious defense.

    Either way, these are two of the top three or four teams in the conference (along with Indiana and Michigan State), and both could be playing deep into March.

    Game on.